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Revisiting the Chris Wondolowski argument, now in a bigger and better context

Jul 22, 2013, 5:10 PM EDT

United States v Costa Rica - 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup Getty Images

The book on Chris Wondolowski has usually read like this: sensational striker in league play who may be stretched to make an impact internationally.

It’s really not an awful thing to pin on someone; nobody is accusing the man of drowning kittens here. Taylor Twellman and Jason Kries were other examples of terrific strikers in Major League Soccer who probably reached their top level in league soccer.

Only, with Wondolowski, a few fans and a selected bunch from the chattering class got caught up in the moment and lost some larger context recently. The Earthquakes’ forward did hit six goals in three matches – but the quality of competition was league level. Given international caliber service and backed by international level teammates, Wondolowski is certainly capable of doing the business against overmatched regional small fries.

But it always looked like typical sports overreaction, this flawed tendency to make big, sweeping judgments from every match. (Or, in this case, the false bottom of a short series of them.)

So a week ago, some people were already handing him a ticket to Brazil. Very prematurely so. I wrote as much six days ago.

Now here we are today with two more samples to study. Wondolowski went 77 minutes last week against Costa Rica and then 60 on Sunday against El Salvador. Total goals: zero.

(MORE: What we learned about the United States vs. El Salvador)

He wasn’t awful, not by any stretch. “Wondo” is just not the difference maker that Landon Donovan is. He’s not the athlete that Eddie Johnson is. He doesn’t have the ability to create on his own the way some others in the U.S. player pool can. Wondolowski’s game gets somewhat limited at international level.

Here’s what MLSSoccer.com’s player ratings had to say: “One simple assist pass aside, Wondo was often either stranding himself from the offense or slowing it down. It didn’t help his cause that Eddie Johnson replaced him with such a strong display.”

The New York Times was more harsh still in its ratings. “Never seemed to find a place in the quick-moving U.S. attack.”  Jeff Carlisle at ESPN FC did like the striker’s link-up play, offering that is “was miles better than it was against Costa Rica, as he set up Corona’s goal and sprung Donovan with a telling through ball.” But he also noted the struggle “with some of El Salvador’s physical antics.”

It’s not over; two matches remain. The problem is Johnson, the Seattle Sounders’ striker scored immediately upon coming on Sunday. He seems certain to start in Wednesday’s semifinal, which means the San Jose man’s minutes will dwindle fast.

As I also wrote last week, roster spots are always a zero-sum game; for every roster winner there is a roster loser, in other words. Wondolowski may or may not make the final 23 for Brazil, but you have to circle the man you want knocked aside.

Jurgen Klinsmann pattern of player selection says that Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson are all ahead of Wondolowski in the forward depth  pool. (Depending on how you want to count Dempsey, that is.) Landon Donovan is, too; we can probably all agree on that.

Today, Joe Corona looks more likely to make the roster than Wondolowski, even if he is  playing a slightly different position. Either way, it’s a roster spot, and that’s one more obstacle in a very good forward’s path to Brazil.

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